Sunday, January 19, 2014

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #21: All Hail the G.C.A.J.T.A.!

By Professor Mark Barsotti
Q.N.S., K.O.F., R.F.O.

In 1968, I was seven years old and America was aflame, literally and symbolically. Race riots and assassinations. Vietnam and the anti-war movement. The "Establishment" vs. the counterculture. My parents decided to save the kids from the Furies of the Sixties with a move to rural America. Kiowa, Colorado was seventy miles east of Denver, but might well have been a thousand. The town was three blocks long, literally, but we lived seven miles deeper into the wilderness, four miles east out two-lane US 86, then south down three miles of rutted dirt road, out among real Skoal-dipping cowboys and Ike-liking Republicans, the nearest neighbors a quarter-mile away.

Shortly after we moved, I received the first folded-in-half, plain brown wrapper delivery of my two fave Marvel Comics, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four.

The latter was issue #81, a Kirby/Lee tale called "Enter - The Exquisite Elemental!" I opened the cover and saw:

It was love at first sight, for the girl and for the FF, during what's now seen as the twilight glory of Kirby & Lee's historic run. I don't remember why I requested a FF subscription (my big brother dug Thor and the Avengers). I liked the reprints in Marvel's Collectors' Item Classics but have no memory of a "first story" FF moment until she walked into my life.

Crystal dons her homemade FF uniform as a job interview, offering her services in place of new mother Sue Richards. Reed is skeptical, telling Crys she's "just a child," unfit for "one of the most dangerous (jobs) on earth." But her takedown of the Wizard by story's end proves him wrong, and Bashful Benjy sums up the mood in the final panel, "Man! From now on, the super-hero biz is gonna be a blast!" And so it was. The orange-hair beauty again proved her fighting worth by defeating Maximus a couple months later, but I was equally thrilled by more elementary chemistry:

I expected Sue's eventual return but didn't miss her a lick. She and Reed were old marrieds by '68. Johnny and Crys were idealized, empowered youth: attractive, in-love, savin' the world every couple months. As a lonely kid plopped down on the wind-swept eastern plains of Colorado, I thrilled to the Spidey and FF adventures, but the teen couple struck a deeper chord. J+C was worthy of carving in a tree.
Not reading Dr. Freud Mind Mapper, I knew nothing of "transference," or "role modeling," but kids live out their fantasy futures through storytelling, comics most definitely included. Without going full-tilt Dr. Phil, I'll note my parents' relationship was then as turbulent as the times, so the Crys Johnny romance, mere funny book fiction, catered to some sharp emotional need. I wasn't just invested in their relationship. I was all in.

Since this is Marvel University, students, grab your notebooks as we go back to the future, charting the Crys-Johnny timeline:

Issues #45-48: Crystal is first glimpsed from afar by a pensive Johnny Storm, out strolling through a slum neighborhood. "I hate to be disloyal," he thinks, "but she makes Dorrie Evans seem like a boy!" Because of his powers, Crys mistakes Johnny for an Inhuman and leads him to her family in hiding. #46: the Inhumans are about to teleport out of New York, but Crys is already smitten: "Johnny! I don't want to leave you! I want to stay with you – no matter what!" The FF find the Great Refuge in #47, but six pages into #48 Maximus creates an impenetrable dome (first called "a negative zone") over the GR, separating the moon-struck lovers, and the FF are off to meet Galactus.

#50: Johnny enrolls in college. Under the dome, Crys gets a two panel cameo. "But I must reach the outside world again! I must find Johnny Storm!"

#52: Johnny pines for Crys before the FF head to Wakanda to meet the Black Panther. Karnak tries to shatter the dome, without success.

#54-58: Gorgon tries to taunt Maximus into destroying the dome. No luck. Johnny and Wyatt Wingfoot accept the Panther's gift of a Gyro-Cruiser and head for the GR. #55: Crys' transporting pooch Lockjaw finds Johnny and Wyatt; in #56 they try training LJ, but #57 finds the giant slobber-dog landing them among dinosaurs, while Crys and her fellow Inhumans hover over an unconscious Black Bolt. #58: Lockjaw blips the frosh roomies to NYC in time to join the battle against Doc Doom.

King-Size FF #4 (concurrent w/#56): Lockjaw transports J&W to the Baxter Building rather than the GR. Torchie, in not his finest moment, goes all drama queen, collapsing on a sofa to bawl, "I failed! I've lost Crystal! It's the end of my world!" Recovering from his snit, Johnny flies to the desert to practice his nova flame, hoping to pierce the great barrier, but he's interrupted by the original android Torch. Battle ensues.

#59: Climaxing a seven page Inhumans' appearance, Black Bolt raises his voice and shatters the dome. Crys rejoices, "Now I can find Johnny again! Nothing will ever separate us – we'll be together at last!"

#60: Crys appears in three panels, using her powers to start a fire as the Inhumans run off fearful villagers.

#61: First appearance of her iconic, double-helix hair band (although here it's a single large oval and there were several variations over the years; whether Kirby intended different models or simply forgot what it looked like is an open question). The Inhumans are in "a secret shelter, somewhere in Europe," but when Crys declares, "I rather face the fury of all mankind than spend another day...without the one I love," BB gives her permission to search for Johnny. Lockjaw transports her to a Metro College football game, just missing Matchhead, off to singe the Sandman.

#62: Crys & Lockjaw pop into the Baxter Building, but the long-awaited reunion is subdued, what with Reed being lost in the (real) Negative Zone. Crys transports back to the Inhumans and returns with Triton, who enters the NZ and leads Reed to safety.

#63-68: Two panels of J&C hitting the town in civilian clothes. #64: A make-out scene is interrupted by Sue's desperate call for help. Lockjaw transports Johnny to the island where the FF grapple with the Kree Sentry. #65: Crys and Johnny cruise in one of his hot-rods; in #66, angered that he abandoned her roadside to fly off on FF-biz, Crys snuffs out his flame with a whirlwind. #67: A breakfast table lip-lock. #68: Crys whips up a storm in the hot-rod garage, stopping a fight between Johnny and an over-amorous grease monkey.

King-Size FF #5 (concurrent w/#68): Johnny, Crys, and Ben rejoice that Sue's expecting a baby. The ish also includes the King's worst rendering of Crystal ever, as a pin-up, no less. Only at the Dean's urging and in service of journalistic transparency is it reproduced below, but ugh! She looks like the Puppet Master in drag, with thighs thicker than her waist. Jack musta got a really bad cigar...

#70-77: Crys hangs out with pregnant Sue, who sends her to the drugstore for a "tonic," which Crys returns with at the end of #71, missing the battle with the Mad Thinker's android. #72: Johnny, Crys, and Ben discuss Sue's pregnancy before the Watcher arrives to warn them about the Silver Surfer. #74 Crys and Reed distract Sue from noticing Johnny fighting Galactus over Manhattan. The Baby-Watch continues, with Crys distracting Sue again in #75-76 before accompanying Mrs. Fantastic to the hospital when she's stricken with mysterious symptoms.

#79-80: Crys lays a smooch on Ben, back in human form, before riding Johnny piggy-back out of the Baxter Building, to the delight of O'Hoolihan the Doorman (seen for the first & last time). Next month she wears an apron while vacuuming before the boys head west with Wyatt Wingfoot.

King-Size FF #6: (concurrent w/#80) Crys confronts the doctors and learns Sue's in grave danger, while Johnny and the boys search the Negative Zone for the element that can save mother and child. The mission succeeds and all celebrate the birth of Franklin Richards.

#81: Crys is on the team at last. It's surprising that Kirby & Lee dithered about this for almost two years after she and Johnny reunited, leaving a very powerful ally on the sidelines.

#82: Crys must return to the Great Refuge and ask permission to join the FF. Lockjaw appears to zap her home, followed by Alpha Primitives, who abduct the orange-haired hottie. The boys give chase, finding Maximus in power and threatening the world with a giant Hypno-Gun.

#83: Crys destroys said weapon and she and Johnny engage in an inappropriate display of public affection before the Royal Family.

#84-87: Now a full-fledged FF member, Crys joins the boys to tackle Doc Doom in Latveria, with Sue re-joining them in #86.

#88-89: The "Fantastic Five" journey to the weird house that the Richards have just purchased, way out in the country, as a great place to raise the kid (sounds familiar). Crys, again w/apron, serves dinner and asks, "More hot buns, Johnny?" Yes, please! He's on the verge of proposing when the Mole Man arrives to strike them blind. #89: She accidentally injures Johnny when Moley vaults over her elemental blast. Crys later hugs Sue while the Thing gives CPR to Reed (heavy injury report issue).

#90-93: Crys and Johnny hang with the family before Ben is abducted by a Skrull. #91: J&C get one panel, six in #92, as Ben fights for his life on a distant world (The Thing was always Jack's alter-ego and Ben's solo battle - perhaps reflective of Kirby's losing contract battle with Marvel before he left for DC - was the King's last fully-invested FF adventure; most of the remaining stories were contract fulfillment). #93 Crys, Johnny and Reed journey to the gangster planet to help Ben. She rocks a black beret, flaunting a rod like a practiced gun-moll.

#94: Gorgeous on the splash page, Crys then stays in the city while the others visit Agatha Harkness.

#95: Medusa arrives at the Baxter Building with news that the Inhumans need Crystal back in the GR. Johnny objects, so Ms. M. restrains him with her hair and teleports away with her sister. Johnny mopes until Reed sends him into action against a spy with a beard (see: contract fulfillment).

#99: After three months alone, Johnny heads to the Great Refuge to reclaim his lover-girl. He tangles with various Inhumans to reach her, but when Crys says BB didn't trick her into returning, Johnny snaps, "I didn't mean anything to you, I never did." Ticked off mightily, she unleashes some elemental whip-ass on petulant Bic-boy. It's a deserved comeuppance and if Kirby wanted to write Crystal out of the book - on his way out the door - this was the moment. But no; Crys' "micro-shock waves" were needed to jump-start Black Bolt's ailing heart, and the final panel depicts the couple's last Kirby kiss.

#100-102: Crys saves her teammates from plummeting to their death in the opening scene. Later she scatters a horde of Mad Thinker androids and slaps anti-grav disks on faux Sandman and Wizard, doing far more than her teammates in the day-saving dept. (although her heroics couldn't save the less than stellar centennial issue). #101: Crys, Ben, and Alicia boogie to the acoustic guitar stylings of J. Storm. When the team is gassed by hoods, put in steel coffins and dumped off the Jersey Flats, it's again Crys' powers that frees them. #102: She spoons up cold medicine for Ben on the splash page of Kirby's final issue. Johnny grabs her and dives for safety before the Thing's room-wrecking sneeze.

It was to be the last laugh. With Kirby's departure, more than the iconic look of the FF was about to change. Tune in next Sunday for the three-hankie details and the heroic - if completely futile - rise of the G.C.A.J.T.A.! And a no-prize to the first non-facility member who can decode that mess.

Tune in next Sunday for the Conclusion of G.C.A.T.J.A.!!!


  1. Too funny! We won't even go into my crushes on Supergirl and Melody from Josie and the Pussycats...

  2. Crystal was simply sensational as a replacement for Sue Storm. Truth be told, looking at her defeat of the Wizard in issue #81 and how well she out performed Sue in the anniversary issue #100, it is a wonder that Stan Lee ever chose to let her leave the team. He should have kept Crystal on permanently!

  3. As much as I hate to say being a Chiefs fan, congrats on your Broncos. I'd say my first crush was William Deering, aka Erin Gray, from "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." My younger brother and I would pretend she was a pillow and wrestle for her.

  4. Thanks Tom. On to New York.

    And to Anonymous, your G.C.A.J.T.A. membership card is in the mail.The NSA has nothing on the resources at our disposal here Marvel U.

  5. Grab Crystal and Join the Avengers?

  6. Professor Mark, you achieved the rare blend that is--or should be--the goal of all MU faculty: solid scholarship and a great read. I have never looked at this book through such a Crys-centric lens before, and agree she was underutilized. Lucky for her she has such a booster to this day.